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Billionaire's plan to convert church into mega mansion under fire

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(KCAL)

VENICE, Calif. – Jay Penske, of the Penske automotive family, along with his wife want to convert a 109-year-old Baptist church into a mansion in California.

Residents are fighting back, saying that the First Baptist Church of Venice is a deeply valued landmark in the heart of the African American community. The community debated the pros and cons of the plan in a recent community meeting.

Resident Naomi Nightengale said that Penske’s plan to turn the church into his own personal mansion was “white privilege arrogance.” 

“It is a sickness to want to go into a community and care more about your own dreams to have a huge mansion than about a neighborhood,” another person said in the meeting. 

Penske plans to turn the church into an 11,000 square-foot home, complete with a rooftop deck and four-car garage. 

Penske would not give an interview, but his wife, former supermodel Elaine Irwin Penske, spoke up.

"We've had extensive conversation, exchanges of email, calls and meetings with community members and residents -- often with multiple families, some individuals,” Elaine Penske said to the commission. “In addition, we've received numerous letters from the neighbors and surrounding neighbors sharing their stories and offering support."

Some residents spoke in favor of the mansion, saying it would boost property values. 

“These people are assets to the community,” said one attendee. “This building is an incredibly adaptive reuse of the existing structure.” 

The commission has postponed the vote until August 15, KCAL reported.